It was the morning before the comrades marathon in 2019 and I was watching from 15th the window of my room in a Durban beach hotel when I witnessed an amazing sight.
No, it wasn’t the brightly billowing spinnakers of 100 international racing yachts or the conning tower of a nuclear submarine floating off a cliff. It was not a whale that had broken through, and the famous sardine run, when black clouds of fish are accompanied by plummeting gannets and jumping dolphins, was not expected until next week.
No, it was a more amazing sight. It was the spectacle of dozens of Comrades runners committing sports suicide on the esplanade below me.
Huge crowds of sweaty joggers raced up and down the North Beach boardwalk, chanting and waving their arms like a fast-moving Mexican wave. Several runners separated from the crowd and raced along the pier at breakneck speed. Other small groups did vigorous gymnastics on the grass next to the beach. The excitement was palpable. These enthusiasts made sure everyone knew they were here in Durban to win the Comrades marathon the next day.
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In the case of chronic mass psychosis, these runners also loudly declared that they had never heard of the three magic words “leaving for pre-race training.” They advertised the fact that the Comrades were going to beat them.
Fed up with
If Comrades runners start training in the first week of August, they will feel a huge relief that the really hard work is behind them. Most of them have run 60 km in their club or are about to run. Almost everyone will be tired, heavy-legged and grumpy, giving meaning to an explicit adjective in Afrikaans, Fed up with!
From now on, no Comrades runner should think about a long slow run of more than 35 km. (And this definitely applies to those who miss some kind of workout due to injury or illness. I discussed this sport crime of “making up for a missed workout” in Citizen’s previous column)
The emphasis should now be on resting tired, overtrained legs, building strength and getting ready for race day. This particular skill is more commonly known as peaking on race day.
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When in doubt, I recommend following this strict recipe.
“Should I run 15 km or 10 km today?” (my advice, run 8 km)
“My training mates run the last 40 km on Sunday. They promised it would be slow and gentle. Should I join them?” (My advice is to run slowly and smoothly for 20 km alone)
In this endgame, many runners are understandably still overwhelmed with the desire to try to do something to get better.
And there is something they can do. They can take the tough, tough, battle-hardened runner they’ve built and hone it for race day. They can achieve this by running a few faster short runs or races, as well as a few short reps on steep climbs to practice and make sure they’re ready.
It’s time to shorten the run
This process is a bit like taking a hard, dull knife blade and sharpening it on a whetstone until it’s razor sharp. The feeling of growth and accumulation of fitness will be accelerated by reducing the total mileage.
As of Monday, August 8th, I recommend drastically reducing your training mileage.
For example, I ran 160-220 km a week for three months, training for comrades. Three weeks before race day, I would drastically reduce that training load to run 100km a week, and in the two remaining weeks I would run 70-80km.
I added a lot of faster, more intense runs to this schedule, such as time trials, cross-country races, track work, and uphill sprints (if there were parkruns in my day, I would have run a couple of high-speed parkruns).
But it was the last week of my training schedule that best prepared me for the 90K race. It is almost a paradox, but in order to cope with this challenge, I ran with all my might.
Sunday 15 km at a steady pace
Monday 10 km at an easy pace
Tuesday 8 km at an easy pace
Wednesday 5km very easy pace
Thursday don’t run
Friday don’t run
Saturday don’t run
Sunday 90 mountainous, brutal, exhausting kilometers.
I hope that the last entry in my training plan (“90 mountainous, brutal, grueling kilometers”) completes. The best way to prepare for a fight in the last days is not to run at all and spend as little time as possible on your feet.
Prolonged rest makes the legs strong and ready to race with comrades. “Recreation” includes not spending hours at the pre-race show collecting numbers and browsing all the booths and stalls advertising your merchandise enticingly. This also includes avoiding long walks looking for the right high carb restaurant that isn’t fully booked.
But whatever the runners do at the risk of exaggerating, heed my plea.
“Please do not join the braggart runners putting on a show on the beach on the morning of August 27th. “